PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE: I recently attended a function in Brunswick where the keynote speaker stated, “Texas uses fourth-grade reading scores to project the number of prison cells they’re going to need 10 years later. And not just Texas, but Mississippi and several other states as well.”

I wondered to myself, “Can — or does — Maine do the same thing?”

Over the last several years, there are two topics that continue to dominate indepth conversations concerning Maine businesses and Maine’s ability to have our products compete nationally and globally. Resoundingly, these topics are around work force and education. Specifically, businesses can’t recruit the work force they need to do highly technical jobs and Maine’s K-12 and post-secondary school systems aren’t meeting the challenge.

Steven Wallace

Steven Wallace

While this article is not about supporting, defending, or even justifying either of the latter two comments, I will say to you as loudly and clearly as possible that these charges are non-partisan — they are being echoed from all sizes and types of businesses and business sectors. And these claims are not going away; they are getting louder.

Many years ago, I helped assist accident investigation teams in compiling reports documenting the reasons why planes crashed. In these studies, investigators would go back days, weeks, and even years looking for “causal factors.”

Causal factors could be anything, such as how a plane was maintained, how aircrews were trained, or if a pilot had a fight with his spouse before flying. A causal factor, when looked at independently, often seemed meaningless or irrelevant. When put together with all of the other pieces, causal factors often made the puzzle much clearer.

The lessons learned would be used to hopefully prevent other deadly mishaps from occurring.

When I hear businesses talking about their work force problems, I think causal factor. When I hear students, teachers, professors and job creators alike talk about systematic gaps in our educational system, I think, sooner or later, something bad is going to happen. And when I hear law enforcement officials saying they can accurately predict the number of prison cells they’ll need in 10 years, I think, “How did we not see this accident coming?”

Sadly, we have seen the accident coming for years.

Twenty years ago, two doctors working in an inner-city hospital — what was then called Boston City Hospital and today is Boston Medical Center — had an “aha moment” that changed the prospects for all kids (not just at-risk kids, as some would like to report). Drs. Robert Needleman and Barry Zuckerman proved that something as simple as parents and mentors reading to very young kids could make a profound impact.

Babies and toddlers who receive more verbal, visual and tactile stimulation have more brain stimulation than children who don’t. That there are long-term, positive impacts on cognitive abilities from this increased early stimulation is no surprise. And it should be no surprise that study after study absolutely proves kids’ vocabulary, language and pre-reading skills are far ahead of their peers’ when they reach school — typically six months ahead — simply as a result of being read to regularly.

In a joint publication, “Making Maine Work: Investment in Young Children = Real Economic Development,” the Maine Development Foundation and Maine State Chamber make a strong case for the importance of early childhood development (to the tune of a 17 to 1 return on investment ratio). I urge you to go out to either of their websites and download this free publication.

When asked about her success, Oprah Winfrey stated, “Books were my pass to personal freedom. I learned to read at age three, and soon discovered there was a whole world to conquer that went beyond our farm in Mississippi.”

I cannot promise you if you teach your kids to read by the age of three they’ll grow up to be a celebrity billionaire. However, if basic skills such as reading are not learned prior to the age of six, the data is chillingly more predictable: 85 percent of all juvenile offenders have reading problems and 60 percent of America’s prison inmates are illiterate.

We all need to take this subject seriously — kids, parents, mentors, teachers, colleges, politicians and the local business community. This accident must be stopped.

UPCOMING EVENTS: “Affordable Care Act: What Employers Need to Know” is the Oct. 9 Chamber Regional Luncheon, 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at the Bath Country Club. Industry experts, Joel Allumbaugh (National Worksite Benefit Group) and Steve Gerlach (Bernstein Shur Counselors at Law), will provide important ACA information for employers. A buffet luncheon will be served.

“A Golden Opportunity to Help Students in Your Community” is a fundraiser for the chamber’s scholarship fund. Cash in your gold, silver and platinum; make some money and Party of Gold will donate a percentage to the chamber’s scholarship fund. Oct. 8 and 9, noon to 5 p.m. at Priority Business Center, 2 Main St., Topsham, (benefits students in Brunswick, Topsham, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham and Harpswell); Oct. 10, noon to 7 p.m. at Key Bank, 40 Front St., Bath (benefits students in Arrowsic, Bath, Phippsburg, West Bath, Woolwich); and Oct. 11, noon to 4 p.m. at Nickels-Sortwell House, 121 Main St., Wiscasset (benefits students in Wiscasset, Westport Island, Edgecomb.) For details go to www.midcoastmaine.com/calendar/event/4585/u/

There are three Business Success Seminars in October: “How to Hold a Meet Up” is Oct. 16 and “Benefits of Wind Power for Business” is Oct. 30. Both take place at the Topsham Public Library, 25 Foreside Road. The third seminar is about QR Codes and is Oct. 22 at Priority Business Center, 2 Main St., Topsham. All take place at 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and are free to attend.

Please go to the chamber’s website (www.midcoastmaine.com), scrolling the calendar to register for all of these events. For some the seating is limited and there may be a fee. Don’t miss out.

MEMBERS IN THE NEWS: The chamber welcomes Pathways Rehabilitation Services, LLC; Maine Stay Vacations and Homes & Harbors Coastal Real Estate to its membership. Discover more about chamber members at www.midcoastmaine.com or download MyChamberApp for use on your mobile phone or tablet.

The chamber proudly serves 760 businesses and organizations in the following communities: Arrowsic, Bath, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Brunswick, Dresden, Edgecomb, Georgetown, Harpswell, Phippsburg, Richmond, Topsham, West Bath, Westport Island, Wiscasset and Woolwich.


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